Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Screening of "The Mummy" (2017), "Wonder Woman", and "47 Meters Down"

Confessions of a Film Junkie: A Screening of "The Mummy" (2017), "Wonder Woman", and "47 Meters Down"

A Video Review by Brian Cotnoir

Hello All this week, I'm reviewing not one, not two, but three new movies!  Be sure to watch all three to let me know what you think.  *SPOILER WARNING* for "The Mummy" (2017) and "47 Meters Down".  The "Wonder Woman" review DOES NOT contain any Spoilers at all.



My Review of "The Mummy"


My Review of "Wonder Woman"


My Review of "47 Meters Down"

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Classics: A Review of An American Tail By Lauren Ennis


July 4th commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the American thirteen colonies uniting to form a new country. While the holiday honors our nation’s historical triumphs, it has since become a celebration of America’s present as much as it’s past. Although the America of today may be drastically different from the land that our founders fought for, it remains a land of freedom and opportunity that continues to draw immigrants from across the globe. The film I’ll be reviewing this week, An American Tail, chronicles the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant experience while highlighting the ways in which immigrants from around the world have shaped the United States’ into the nation that we know today. While the film may have been written for children, this tale of immigrant mice arriving in a new country in search of a better life will resonate with audiences of all ages.

Everywhere around the world they're coming to America
The film begins in 1880’s czarist Russia as the Mousekewitz family celebrate Hanukkah. The celebration is cut short, however, when Cossacks arrive and attack the family’s village in one of the czar’s anti-Semitic pogroms.  While the Cossacks terrorize the villagers, the film parallels the violence with a virtually identical attack against the village’s mice by the Cossack’s cats. While the Mousekewitzes escape unharmed, their home is destroyed and they continue to face oppression under the cats. To avoid further violence and persecution, the family set out for the United States where they are told there are no cats and the streets are paved with cheese. Their arrival in America proves bittersweet, however, after middle child Fievel falls overboard during their journey. Miraculously, Fievel survives by taking shelter in an empty bottle and manages to wash ashore in New York City just as his family enters Ellis Island. The film then chronicles his efforts to make sense of his new home as he struggles to reunite with his family, even as they cope with life in a new country and continue to mourn him.

The film expertly captures the experiences of 19th century immigrants in a way that both informs and entertains young audiences. For example, the film maintains its historical context by relating some of the varied reasons that people left Europe for America through catchy songs and the child-friendly metaphor of mice as immigrants and cats as forces of oppression. The film similarly explores such historical issues as Tammany Hall corruption and child labor, but maintains viewer interest by remaining firmly focused upon how these issues directly impact Fieval and his family. The film’s portrayal of a diverse cast of characters working towards common goals captures the spirit of America’s melting-pot while teaching lessons in tolerance and the importance of teamwork. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the way in which it refuses to talk down to its audience and presents the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in America in equal measure, which makes the character’s ultimate successes more satisfying. Thus, An American Tail uses familiar elements of children’s films to relate a historical story that will both entertain and enlighten young audiences.

The mice ain't gonna take it, no they ain't gonna take it

The film brings together breathtaking animation, enjoyable songs, and engaging voice acting to bring its unique version of 1880’s Europe and America to life. The animation is lovely without ever overwhelming the story and creates a striking balance between realism and cartoonishness. One of the visual highlights is the way in which the mouse world is shown as part of the world at large, and the greater world is shown from a mouse’s perspective. The film also utilizes several memorable songs including the tear-inducing Oscar nominated ballad, “Somewhere Out There” and the rousing “There are No Cats in America”. The voice acting is uniformly excellent with actors portraying a wide variety of characters of varying nationalities with nuance, enthusiasm, and charm.

Part historical drama and part musical adventure An American Tail is a film that truly has something to offer the entire family. Through its tapestry of song, action, and animation the film brings the bustling streets of a changing America to life. It’s portrayal of immigration in all its grittiness and glory lends an all too human heart to this tale of mice on the move. For the young and young at heart alike An American Tail is an apt reminder of what it means to be an American.

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Classics: A Very Disney Father's Day By Lauren Ennis


Last month I put the spotlight on some of the best mothers and mother-figures in Disney’s animated canon. While slightly less joked about than Disney moms, Disney dads are just as subject to mishaps and untimely demises as their female counterparts. From Bambi’s absent father to Jasmine’s well-meaning but utterly unfit to rule father, to countless deceased fathers, the land of Disney can certainly be a dicey place for dad. Just like Disney moms, however, Disney fathers and father-figures are some of the best in cinema. Here’s to three jolly-good fellows who could teach us all a thing about parenting and appreciating our parents.


Mighty big paws to fill
MUFASA: Disney’s answer to Atticus Finch, Mufasa might well be the king of Disney dads as well as king of the Pridelands. Throughout The Lion King, Mufasa leads by example and uses seemingly mundane moments as opportunities to instill his son, Simba, with respect for the world around him. For instance, in one of the film’s most quotable moments, he teaches Simba that every living thing down to the very grass that we walk upon plays its own crucial role in the circle of life. He then goes on to remind his son that their roles as rulers of the Pridelands come with responsibilities as well as privileges. Mufasa also makes a careful effort to curb Simba’s budding sense of entitlement and holds him accountable for his mistakes. He then goes a step further by showing his son that there is a lesson to be learned from every mistake and openly acknowledges his own mistakes. Despite his numerous responsibilities, he also makes time for his family and treats his role as father with equal importance as his role as leader. Mufasa puts his own safety at risk on multiple occasions in order to protect Simba and eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to save Simba’s life. Even after his death, it is the memory of Mufasa and all that he instilled in Simba that inspires Simba to stop running away from his problems and claim his proper place both in his family and on the throne. Twenty three years after The Lion King’s release, Mufasa still reigns as one of the best fathers in cinema.

Why fit in when you can stand out?
MAURICE: Beauty and the Beast’s Belle is often remembered as one of Disney’s first truly modern princesses due to her intelligence, independence, and nonconformity. One viewing of this classic and you’ll see that viewers can thank Belle’s inventor father, Maurice, for instilling those qualities in her. While the rest of the village dismisses her as ‘a beauty but a funny girl’, Maurice sees the true value in his daughter’s mind and willful personality and encourages her to develop them. He consistently shows an interest in her life and passions, but also allows her privacy and personal space; a tricky line for any parent to walk, let alone a single dad in the 18th century. When she confronts him with her inability to fit in, rather than blame her for defying local norms he instead insists that she’s perfectly fine just as she is. While he does suggest that she befriend villain Gaston, he quickly dismisses the thought when she explains her dislike for him, whereas most parents of that era would have insisted that a match with Gaston was her best option. It’s obvious watching the two interact that they enjoy a supportive and trusting relationship that many real-life families would envy, quirks and all. Later, after Belle bravely takes Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, Maurice springs into action and courageously sets out to rescue her alone when the town ignores his pleas. Even in the film’s final act he trust’s Belle’s judgment in spite his own terrifying experience with the Beast, and helps her reach the Beast in time to warn him when Gaston and the local villagers invade the castle. While the locals may dismiss him ‘crazy old Maurice’, it would be crazy not to include Maurice on any list of great Disney dads.

The things that happen when you wish upon a star
GEPPETTO: No list of Disney dads would be complete without the studio’s first animated father, Geppetto. After years of devoting himself to his work, carpenter Geppetto realizes that he has left no time to start a family of his own. After wishing upon a star, however, his patience is rewarded when the benevolent Blue Fairy appears and brings one of his hand-made marionettes to life. One obstacle still remains in the way of the unusual family’s happiness; the puppet, Pinocchio can only become a real boy if he proves himself worthy by leading a good and virtuous life. Over the course of the film Pinocchio gives in to one temptation after another until little hope remains that he’ll ever become real. Through all of his mistakes, however, Pinocchio can always rely upon Geppetto for consistent guidance and unconditional love. Geppetto even puts his own life at risk when he faces the monstrous whale Monstro in order to bring runaway Pinocchio safely home. Geppetto also does his best to instill the willful Pinocchio with a strong moral base by teaching him right from wrong and the value of hard work. While Pinocchio might initially reject his father’s advice, it is the values and lessons that Geppetto teach him that ultimately allow him to become real. While Pinocchio might not have always been a real boy, the love between him and Geppetto is never less than utterly real.

 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Classics: A Review of Grand Hotel By Lauren Ennis


“Grand Hotel…always the same…people come and go but nothing ever happens” bemoans a regular guest at Berlin’s famed Grand Hotel. The guest’s observation is quickly proved to be misguided, however, as a whirlwind of activity sweeps through the hotel’s doors and guests not only come and go, but come together only to be torn apart before departing through the hotel’s revolving doors. A tapestry of tales woven together with performances from some of the 1930’s most memorable stars, Grand Hotel is a must watch for both fans of vintage drama, and newcomers looking for an introduction to the classics alike.


Whatever happened to wanting to be alone?
The story begins with a brief introduction to the diverse guests populating Berlin’s Grand Hotel. Terminally ill bookkeeper Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) retreats to the hotel for a few final days of extravagance after a lifetime of caution and frugality. Soon after, Kringelein’s boss, ruthless industrialist Mr. Preysing (Wallace Beery) arrives with his seductive new stenographer, Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) in tow. Meanwhile penniless aristocrat turned thief Baron von Gaigern (John Barrymore) patrols the hotel halls looking for a score. Finally tormented ballerina Grusniskaya arrives with her entourage in preparation for an upcoming performance. This diverse cast of characters’ lives cross and intertwine in by turns tragic and comic ways that ultimately leave each of them profoundly changed when they finally exit through the hotel’s lobby.

That Joan, always getting a leg up on the competition


Adapted from Vickie Baum’s novel and stage-play, Grand Hotel captures the dizzying atmosphere of a generation dancing on the edge of darkness. Through its portrait of Europe between the world wars the film aptly portrays the ways in which political and economic turmoil can upend even the most seemingly stable lives. Set in impoverished 1930’s Germany, the film largely focuses upon the ways in which its characters compromise their ideals and morals in an effort to survive.  For instance, Flaemmchen seriously considers becoming Mr. Preysing’s mistress despite her obvious disdain for him and her growing affection towards the Baron. Similarly, the decline of the aristocracy in the wake of World War I has left the Baron stranded in a world that has moved on without him, leading him to drift into a life of gambling and theft. In a more subtle scenario, Kringelein realizes that he has wasted his life working at a job he despises, all in pursuit of a material success that he never will achieve. Even the wealthy Mr. Preysing proves vulnerable to the upheaval of the Great Depression as he faces financial ruin in the film’s final act. While ballet star Grusniskaya is at the height of her wealth and prestige, she is all too aware that her fortune and fame are slipping away from her as her career approaches its inevitable decline. It is this realization, along with the prospect of returning to the poverty and political oppression of life in the Soviet Union that leads her to attempt suicide. While modern critics have dismissed the film’s plot as soap-opera material, it is this soapish atmosphere that actually lends the film its most biting social critique, as its characters become so consumed with their personal crises that they fail to see the political and social forces threatening to engulf them. Although glittering with talented stars, dazzling costumes, and elegant sets, Grand Hotel is far more than mere artifice as it invites viewers to look beyond the glamour to the sinister forces lurking beneath the glossy surface of 1930’s Europe.

The film’s all-star cast ensure that each of the film’s intertwining plots is never less than stellar viewing. Wallace Beery brings much needed nuance and humanity to what easily could have been a caricature role as brutal businessman Mr. Preysing. Lionel Barrymore is an everyman audiences young and old will be rooting for as his Kringelein finds the confidence and courage to finally live life to the fullest while he still can. Joan Crawford infuses her performance as the sultry Flaemmchen with a crucial vulnerability that ensures audiences with empathize with her character, even as she is tempted by the moral pitfalls of life in the fast-lane. While Greta Garbo is surprisingly under-utilized, she aptly captures both the confident persona and inner torment of her wounded ballerina as she struggles with personal demons in the public eye. John Barrymore’s Baron is equal parts charming and conflicted as he struggles to go straight in a crooked world. Each of these distinct performances adds their own unique touch to the film’s proceedings, while still combining to form a deeper, more satisfying, whole.

As the film that launched the trend of intersecting plotlines, Grand Hotel remains perhaps one of the greatest films of its kind. Through its intelligent script, excellent performances, and innovative premise the film personifies the best in classic cinema. Book a visit to Grand Hotel; you won’t want to check out any time soon.

So many stars, so little screen-time

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Screening of "Alien Covenant"

Confessions of A Film Junkie: A Screening of "Alien" Covenant"

A Video by Brian Cotnoir

Hey All, I just saw the New Alien Film "Alien Covenant" click on the video below to hear my thoughts.  This is a SPOILER FREE Video :)



My Review

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Classics: Most Memorable Disney Moms and Mother-Figures By Lauren Ennis


Since the 1937 debut of Snow white the films of Walt Disney have been a staple of childhood around the world. Despite the popularity of the studio’s animated adventures, however, one trend has been a point of contention amongst fans and critics alike; the recurring absence of mothers and mother figures throughout the studio’s catalog. From the death of Bambi’s mother to the numerous portrayals of wicked step-mothers, evidence abounds that the wonderful world of Disney is less than wonderful for Mom. Fortunately, while significant portrayals of mothers in Disney’s animated films may be few and far between, what these mothers lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. In recognition of Mother’s Day I’ll be shining the spotlight on three of Disney’s most memorable animated mothers. Tell me who your favorite Disney moms are in the comments!

Mrs. Jumbo-Perhaps best known for its critiques of both bullying and animal abuse, Dumbo is also a compelling testament to the power of maternal love. Being a single working mom isn’t easy, and as Mrs. Jumbo shows us, that fact holds true for four as well as two-legged mothers. Throughout Dumbo Mrs. Jumbo tries to shield her son from the harsh realities of circus life, but despite her best efforts, Dumbo remains a favorite target for harassment from both circus staff and audiences. From virtually the moment he is born he is subjected to scrutiny from the other circus animals who mock his unusually large ears and hurtfully nickname him ‘Dumbo’. Emboldened by the shy elephant’s inability to stand up for himself the circus animals continue to berate him as he grows up. The only light in his bleak existence in captivity is his mother who defends him against the other animals’ mockery and provides him with unconditional love and support. She finally reaches her breaking point, however, when a group of children in the audience cruelly mock Dumbo during a performance and lashes out in a justified attack. While the children obviously provoked the attack Mrs. Jumbo is still labeled ‘mad’ and chained in a circus train car that functions as a solitary confinement cell. The separation proves devastating for mother and son, as is best demonstrated in a heart-wrenching scene in which he visits her at her cell only to find that they are still separated by prison bars. The remainder of the film’s plot chronicles his efforts to find the courage to stand up to the adversity surrounding him and reunite with his mother. While the film’s plot veers into the fantastic, its depiction of motherly love remains starkly grounded in reality. From acting as Dumbo’s guardian and defender to facing imprisonment for his sake Mrs. Jumbo proves herself to have a heart whose size matches her name.

Kala- The jungle is a decidedly less than ideal place to raise a family, and interspecies families are unconventional to say the least and yet gorilla Kala manages to make her unorthodox family a truly loving one in 1999’s Tarzan. Grieving from the loss of her own son, Kala discovers the orphaned Tarzan after his parents are killed in a brutal leopard attack and is touched by the child’s plight. When the leopard returns to finish the slaughter it started she springs into action and risks her own life to save him. Upon bringing him to the safety of her gorilla troop she decides to adopt the child as her own against the urging of the other gorilla’s especially her mate, Kerchak who refuses to acknowledge, let alone bond with Tarzan. While the other gorillas’ bullying, Kerchak’s disapproval, and his own appearance prove constant reminders of how different he is from his adopted family, Kala treats Tarzan with the same love and respect that she would her biological child. With her guidance and support he grows up with the firm belief that who he is matters more than how he appears to others. It is the respect for himself and others that she instills in him that later allows him to form a bond with Jane despite their many differences. When resented with the choice between suitor Clayton and Tarzan it is the respect, kindness, and generosity that Kala taught Tarzan that ultimately wins Jane over. Even after he is offered the opportunity to return to England with Jane and take his place amongst human society Kala continues to put Tarzan’s needs first and lead by example when she encourages him to make his own decision whatever the outcome may be. In one of the film’s most heartfelt moments he assures her that “no matter where I go or what I do you will always be my mother” reminding us all that it is love and not blood that defines a family.

Nani-With its modern setting, sci-fi subplot, and rocking Elvis Presley score Lilo and Stitch is one of Disney’s most unique efforts. The story’s primary focus is upon the fish-out of water story of an alien experiment struggling to fit in on earth as he tries to remain one step ahead of the galactic police trailing him. While Stitch’s adventures provide a fascinating story arc and plenty of laughs, it is the relationship between the two human sisters who adopt him that provides the film with its emotional core. After the death of their parents Nani is thrown into the role of surrogate mother and father to her willful younger sister, Lilo. Although barely out of school herself, Nani aptly assumes the role of family breadwinner and parent while coping with her own grief. Even as Lilo continues to drive Nani crazy in the way that only a sister can, Nani continuously makes Lilo her priority as she works grueling hours and puts her social life on hold in an effort to create a stable home and keep social services at bay. Through each step their by turns bizarre and difficult journey Nani and Lilo continue to face the future together, personifying the true meaning of ‘ohana’, the Hawaiian word for family which Lilo explains means ‘nobody gets left behind or forgotten’.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Classics: A Review of The Promise By Lauren Ennis


In the wake of tragedy we are consistently reminded of the importance of remembering and learning from traumatic events. Yet, all too often, the greatest tragedies and atrocities in history are ignored or forgotten as time passes. Such is the case of one of the most horrifying events of the twentieth century; the Armenian Genocide. The genocide lasted from 1915 to 1917 and ultimately claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians and other Christian minorities within the Ottoman Empire, who were systematically rounded up, imprisoned and executed by the Ottoman government. While this tragedy later provided the blueprint for Hitler’s Final Solution, the genocide has received remarkably little attention from popular media. Although a select few films chronicling the genocide have been released in Europe, Hollywood is only now releasing its first production focusing upon the Armenian Genocide; The Promise. The film relates the events of 1915 to 1917 through the eyes of a group of friends living in Constantinople (now Istanbul) at the eve of World War I. Over the course of the film, each of the central characters is drawn into the events of the genocide with devastating consequences. Despite its difficult subject matter, The Promise is at its heart a testament to the resilience of both individuals and a nation, even in the face of the most unspeakable adversity.

The stuff that inspiring tales are made of
The story begins in the Armenian village of Cirun as aspiring physician Mikael (Oscar Isaac) reluctantly agrees to an arranged marriage at the urging of his parents. Using the dowry money from his engagement, he travels to Constantinople in hopes of earning his medical degree. He is dazzled by the Ottoman capital and the modern life he enjoys there, even as political tensions between Armenians and Turks continue to rise. Conflict enters the tale when he meets and is instantly smitten with his cousins’ beautiful governess, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is already involved with talented and passionate, but alcoholic, American reporter, Chris (Christian Bale). Just as the romantic triangle reaches its boiling point, however, World War I breaks out with the genocide following less than a year later. Over the course of the film, each of the characters is faced with impossible decisions and unspeakable horror at every turn as they struggle to survive in a world that is crashing down all around them. In spite of its innumerable tragedies, however, the plot contains triumphs of the human spirit as the central characters fight for justice and freedom without compromising their integrity or humanity.

While it is shocking that Hollywood is only now approaching this subject over one hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, The Promise, is a more than successful first effort. Praised by historians for its accuracy, the film chronicles the progression of the genocide with unflinching honesty. Rather than portraying the characters as possessing unrealistic foresight, which would be more befitting of a modern viewer reflecting on history, the film instead remains within historical context by highlighting the ways in which ordinary people all too often ignore or fail to recognize the warning signs surrounding them. The film also relates how the Ottoman Empire concealed its atrocities under the guise of ‘war-time evacuation’, and the ways in which the outside world chose to ignore blatant red flags surrounding the fictitious evacuation. While some critics have criticized the film’s focus upon its fictional characters, I found that by relating the events from the characters’ perspectives the film infused its story with poignancy and humanized the historical events it portrayed. Regardless of whether or not Mikael, Ana, or Chris actually existed, their inclusion in the plot reminds viewers of the real people whose relationships, country, and lives were upended and destroyed. This personalized approach allows audiences to gain insight into the individual tragedies and triumphs experienced by the Armenian people and enables the story to resonate on a personal as well as political or historical level. Thus, the film captures the emotion and sweep of the greatest historical epics while still remaining true to history.

Some of the best reporting this side of Woodward and Bernstein
The stellar cast bring the events of the Armenian Genocide to life with a depth, intelligence, and emotion that ensures that the historical events will resonate with modern audiences. Oscar Isaac infuses Mikael with an idealism, earnestness, and resilience that calls to mind Omar Sharif’s performance in the classic epic Doctor Zhivago. Christian Bale brings a depth and nuance to his role as the courageous, but flawed, Chris that captures both his character’s heroic passion and inner demons. Charlotte Le Bron’s Ana is an alluring combination of elegant charm, warmth, and steely grit, making her a truly endearing heroine. The supporting cast lend apt support with Marwan Kenzari and Shohreh Aghdashloo earning particular note in their roles as Mikael’s conflicted Turkish friend, Emre, and Mikael’s overbearing but well-intentioned mother, Marta.

Following in the tradition of such acclaimed historical dramas as Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List, The Promise highlights what is one of modern history’s most devastating and forgotten events. The film portrays the events of the genocide in a way that highlights the horror of the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire, while still paying homage to the resilience and courage of the Armenian people and those who aided them. Through its well written script and superb performances the film relates its tragic tale with an accuracy and humanity that earn it a place amongst Hollywood’s best epics. In a world in which atrocities and human rights violations are still committed each day, this film serves as both a call to remembrance and a dire warning for the present.

I'm not gonna cry...sniff..I'm not gonna cry...